Larry Scott has been more than the commissioner of the Pac-12 since his term began in the summer of 2009. He has been the voice, face, mouth and embodiment of the conference.
All by his choice.
Scott has sought out the spotlight, made himself frequently available to the media and generated headlines regularly, through good times and bad, regionally and nationally, during and outside the football season.
To a far greater extent than any player, coach or team, he has been the Pac-12 for a dozen years.
That’s not how it works in other conferences, where the commissioners prefer the shadows to the spotlight and let the schools take the lead.
From this approach came an unintended consequence: Scott has received blame for Pac-12 problems that aren’t his doing.
For instance: Football.
Yes, some of the policies crafted and decisions made at headquarters have hampered the Pac-12 ability to compete on the national stage.
Of this there is no doubt.
But the Pac-12’s on-field regression starts with the teams, not Scott.
It starts with Washington, Oregon and USC — especially USC — unable to consistently win big games, climb into the top 10 and contend for the College Football Playoff.
It starts with Stanford’s fall from prominence.
With UCLA’s enduring mediocrity.
With Arizona State’s untapped potential.
With Utah being a play short.
With Cal and Colorado not recreating the magic they once possessed.
The blame forever falls on Scott. And that’s his doing, even if he’s not primarily at fault.
But because Scott doesn’t recruit, coach or play, our examination of his greatest hits and misses does not include a category for football.
Also, we don’t address his annual compensation.
I wouldn’t turn down $5 million a year, either. Blame the presidents for that, not Scott.
Here we go …
Miss: Pac-12 Networks. Good chance this becomes Scott’s legacy, and that’s not unfair: The seven-feed behemoth was his brainchild all along — an expensive, high-risk creation that helped raise the profile of the Olympic sports but undercut football visibility and never came close to meeting revenue projections. Essentially, Scott miscalculated the market for Pac-12 sports.
Hit: Expansion. Scott tried to turn the conference into the Pac-16, was rebuffed by Texas and settled on Colorado and Utah. (Of note: CU was the only school in every expansion scenario.) Fans of the 10 continuing members have questioned the benefits, but the added heft was essential on several front, including revenue opportunities. And don’t overlook the increased access West Coast teams now have to recruits in Utah. (Hello, Penei Sewell.)
Miss: Tier One contract duration. We maintain that Scott got the best monetary deal possible with FOX and ESPN (average: $250 million annually). But the lengthy 12-year partnership has frozen the conference while other leagues (Big Ten, SEC) are able to negotiate new contracts and gobble up money and broadcast windows, potentially leaving little behind for Pac-12.
Hit: Las Vegas. A case could be made that moving the men’s basketball tournament to Las Vegas was Scott’s shrewdest move. The event had become stagnant in Staples Center, but Scott could have opted to rotate the tournament through NBA arenas within the footprint. Placing it permanently on The Strip was better for the product and opened additional opportunities for the conference in Las Vegas.
Miss: DirecTV. While an important piece of the Pac-12 Networks misfire, DirecTV warrants its own category because of the outsized place it occupied in the original business model — our estimates: $4 million per school/year for 12 years — and the lasting consequence of its absence. The issue of expenses (i.e., rent in San Francisco) don’t carry quite the wallop if DTV is on board from the start.
Hit: Quidel. The daily antigen testing partnership secured in early September was all Scott’s doing, and it made Pac-12 football possible in 2020. For all the obstacles (delayed start, false test results, player quarantines, games cancellations, etc.), the conference would have faced far more severe consequences — immediate and lasting — had it sat out the fall entirely while its Power Five competition played on. It had to join the party, and Scott secured the invite.
Miss: Officiating. In his first weeks on the job in the summer of 2009, Scott made the improvement of football and basketball officiating a centerpiece of his platform. He never got it right and, in fact, owns two scandals that stretched the imagination and embarrassed the conference: Bountygate with Sean Miller and Ed Rush; and the instant-replay dumpster fire with Woodie Dixon. Even now, we’re mystified by the officiating structure: The head of Pac-12 football officiating has never officiated a major college game.
Hit: Student-athlete health. While it doesn’t generate headlines, the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative is one of Scott’s best moves. It funnels millions of dollars to research into injuries, head trauma and mental health, thus cutting to the core of the Pac-12’s mission to serve the athletes and better their lives. Scott deserves significant, lasting credit for this endeavor.
Miss: Conference management. There is a lengthy list of missteps here, from his multiyear refusal to involve the athletic directors in policy decisions to his reliance on a chief football administrator who had no football experience (Woodie Dixon) to the pricey location of the conference office to the time Scott publicly embarrassed former UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero. But we’ll summarize the situation in one sentence: Under Scott’s leadership, it too often seemed like the schools were serving the conference office, instead of the other way around.
Hit: Football Championship Game. The home-hosted model lasted three years before Scott moved the FCG to Levi’s Stadium — a necessary change that elevated the event’s profile. Once the game ran its course in Santa Clara, Scott made the much-anticipated switch to Las Vegas. Although the pandemic intervened in 2020, Allegiant Stadium will host the 2021 edition and, we would assume, many versions thereafter.
Miss: Executive bonuses. We’re hesitant to include this item, because it could be viewed as self-indulgent. And if that’s the case, so be it. But the Hotline’s revelation that bonuses were paid to conference executives one month before (easily-foreseen) staff layoffs and furloughs was, in our opinion, the point of no return for Scott. A final and complete abdication of his moral authority to lead. A decision that horrified campus officials, embarrassed the conference and permanently damaged his brand. Many incidents over the years have been eye-rollers or jaw-droppers. But this … this left the Hotline with a pit in our stomach. The decision was so egregious, so incomprehensible, so wrong, that we’re left to wonder if Scott knew back then that his time in charge was running short and that the personal consequences of the move would be limited.